We meet in secret, or at least the Fernwood Inn pub.
I don’t know what they look like, so they have texted me an exchange of passwords. I am to ask, “May I recite The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to you for World Poetry Day?” and they will reply, “Um, no thanks, go try that at another table.”
This does not work as well as I hope. Still, after a couple of hasty apologies, I find the quarry I have been hunting for more than seven years: @BCFerrys.
The distinction is critical. The former is the official Twitter account of the ferry corporation. The latter is a parody account whose authors’ identity has remained as much of a mystery as the fate of the Sunshine Breakfast.
@BCFerrys is where you go to read cornball tweets, like:
Passengers who ordered hotdogs, please assemble at your mustard station.
— BCFerrys (@BCFerrys) February 25, 2015
Or more topical fare, like this one during the legislature spending fuss:
Tonight’s cafeteria special is an entire truckful of booze for only $370. Shipping included. #bcleg
— BCFerrys (@BCFerrys) February 22, 2019
Or, last month, after the National Energy Board said ferries should slow down: “BCFerrys has responded and will now travel at the speed of their wifi.”
People have been trying to find out who is behind the self-declared “most interesting marine transportation system parody account in the world” since it set sail in September 2011. The TC’s Carla Wilson even promised to make them clam chowder if they revealed themselves. They wouldn’t bite (as it were). Their loss.
This week, with parody accounts in the news — Trump apologist Devin Nunes is suing the Twitterverse for $250 million — they agreed to meet on the condition I maintain their anonymity.
This is as much as I can tell you: @BCFerrys was founded by a member of the Victoria arts community, someone whose name you probably know. A year or two later he was joined by another member of the arts community who had been enjoying the account without knowing who was behind it. They ran it together for a while before the second guy took it over on his own. Neither has anything to do with the ferry corporation, though the second guy says he once spotted Deborah Marshall in a coffee shop.
In the Fernwood Inn they were joined by the creator of the @oakbaygazette parody account. A retired businessman (this describes 82 per cent of the population of Oak Bay), he started out by feeding jokes to @BCFerrys until the latter encouraged him to launch his own site: “The low-hanging fruit of parody is in Oak Bay.” Strangers until then, they hang out together now.
When you add in that the founder of @BCFerrys was also behind @lonelydunlop, written from the point of view of an abandoned, locked-up bicycle in Estevan Village, it’s kind of like finding all your favourite superheroes in one movie.
Parody accounts are among the better swimming holes in Twitter’s toxic swamp. The social media giant tolerates them as long as they make it clear they are spoofs. Hence, @Queen_UK doesn’t try to fool you into thinking it’s written by Her Majesty and @TheTweetOfGod doesn’t pretend to be the Almighty.
Besides, trying to mute them backfires. After Nunes tried to kill an account purporting to be written by one of his dairy cows this week, @DevinCow went from 1,200 followers to more than 600,000. When @BCFerrys was shut down for a day or so in 2015 because its logo was deemed confusing, its popularity shot up overnight. Even the real @BCFerries tweeted “#FreeBCFerrys.”
The real @BCFerries doesn’t have much to worry about from its parody, whose founder actually launched it in response to the absurd moaning of the service’s critics. “People would be mad as hell because the ferry didn’t run in a gigantic storm,” he says.
There was some early confusion, though. A northern B.C. radio reporter once took seriously a tongue-in-cheek bit about John Baird leaving the federal cabinet for the ferry corporation.
Mostly the ferry service is a trope, not a target, a platform for puns and loopy social commentary (like this response to Trump’s declaration of a national emergency: “There is no boarder crisis.”)
“I’m not here to mess up BC Ferries,” says the man who now runs the parody site. In fact, the corporation has already dealt with the stuff they used to poke fun at: confusing signage, executive bonuses, the lack of Interac. “If they fix the Wi-Fi, I’m done.”
It cheers him that no matter how obscure the reference — news stories, songs, old movies — @BCFerrys followers catch on and join the thread. OK, sometimes it falls flat. His favourite post — “The Coastal Renaissance is rebirthing,” was a play on “berthing” and the literal French meaning of renaissance. “Nobody got it.”
Or maybe it just took a while. As they say on @BCFerrys, expect delays.